Fracture of the cervical spine (broken bone)

Neck | Orthopaedics | Fracture of the cervical spine (broken bone) (Disease)


A cervical fracture, commonly called a broken neck, is a catastrophic fracture of any of the seven cervical vertebrae in the neck.

Causes and Risk factors

A person with a neck fracture has broken one of the vertebrae in the neck. The most common causes of neck fractures include sports injuries and falls. Neck fractures are the most common cause of spinal cord injury. Examples of common causes in humans are traffic collisions and diving into shallow water. Abnormal movement of neck bones or pieces of bone can cause a spinal cord injury resulting in loss of sensation, paralysis, or death.

Considerable force is needed to cause a cervical fracture. Vehicle collisions and falls are common causes. A severe, sudden twist to the neck or a severe blow to the head or neck area can cause a cervical fracture.

Sports involving violent physical contact carry a risk of cervical fracture, including American football, ice hockey, rugby, and wrestling. Spearing an opponent in football or rugby, for instance, can cause a broken neck. Cervical fractures may also be seen in some non-contact sports, such as skiing, diving, surfing, powerlifting, equestrianism, mountain biking and motor racing (Formula One driver Gilles Villeneuve died of a cervical fracture, for example).

Diagnosis and Treatment

Complete immobilization of the head and neck should be done as early as possible and before moving the patient. Immobilization should remain in place until movement of the head and neck is proven safe. In the presence of severe head trauma, cervical fracture must be presumed until ruled out. Immobilization is imperative to minimize or prevent further spinal cord injury.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (known as NSAIDs) such as aspirin, or ibuprofen are useful in decreasing swelling and pain. ...